I was startled, in the best way, to see that Merle Miller’s small book about being gay, ‘On Being Different: What It Means to Be a Homosexual’, first published in 1971, is back in print, with a foreword by Dan Savage. It’s also refreshing in some small way that the book’s author used the word ‘homosexual’, a word we’re now told we ought not utter. Mr. Miller put it on the cover of his book, and thank god for it. I was a 13 year old homosexual desperate to know I was not alone.
I stole this book from the local bookstore in Elkhart, Indiana, when it was new and I was in the 8th grade. The only reading material besides it available to me were books I ordered from the Psychology Today Book Club and that my mother eventually discovered to an ugly end. (Our relationship healed over the years, but but it was Mr. Miller, not my parents, who kept me going.) I distinctly remember hiding it under my jacket, probably an army jacket, which was still a fashionable item with young hippies just past the end of the hippie era. Along with Patricia Nell Warren’s iconic 1974 novel ‘The Front Runner‘ (she was very gracious to grant me an interview for this website last year), it was one of those two or three books that helped me make it through.
Originally published in 1971, Merle Miller’s On Being Different is a pioneering and thought-provoking book about being homosexual in the United States. Just two years after the Stonewall riots, Miller wrote a poignant essay for the New York Times Magazine entitled “What It Means To Be a Homosexual” in response to a homophobic article published in Harper’s Magazine. Described as “the most widely read and discussed essay of the decade,” it carried the seed that would blossom into On Being Different—one of the earliest memoirs to affirm the importance of coming out.